It's a daunting task to separate Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles from the bells and whistles of her platinum-selling pop-country band – the Journey-centric intros, the moist beatboxing, the reggae patois, the AutoTune, the Panic! at the Honky Tonk power-emo and everything else heard on their 2010 smash Incredible Machine – but producer Rick Rubin is the man to do it. Who better than the famed "reducer" who successfully stripped layers of studio gloss from country heroes like Johnny Cash and country dabblers like Neil Diamond alike? Nettles' voice is brassy enough for Broadway or vulnerable enough for college radio, depending on how she chooses to wield it; as a no-frills platform for those pipes, this solo debut satisfies. Rubin's warm, naturalistic production supports Nettles through the dramatic ballad "Falling," the Alabama Shake-y cover of Bob Seger's "Like a Rock," the reggae-tinged "Moneyball" (which calls to mind "The Times They Are a-Changin'" if it had the words "Facebook emoticon"), the Western-swing zoot-suit riot of "Know You Wanna Know," the title track's rustic mambo and more.
That Girl is Jennifer Nettles' first solo record since she co-founded pop-country's superstar act Sugarland. Produced by Rick Rubin, it's mostly a collection of originals, co-written with some of the music industry's most successful songwriters. For his part, Rubin has chosen a familiar stable of sidemen -- Matt Sweeney, Smokey Hormel, Jason Lader, ex-Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Red Hot Chili Peppers' drummer Chad Smith, Alex Acuña, and Lenny Castro -- but his work here is busier than is the norm.
Taking a break from her Grammy-winning country duo Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles channels her inner ’70s singer-songwriter for this contemplative solo set. Produced by Rick Rubin, the 11 tracks — all written or co-written by Nettles and friends like Sara Bareilles and Butch Walker, save for a cover of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” — exude a living room hootenanny-style warmth. She hopscotches through ruminative acoustic remembrances (“Falling”), sultry torch songs (“This One’s for You”), and gospel-tinged weepers (“Good Time to Cry.
The title track of the new Bruce Springsteen album is his second recorded shot (this time with Tom Morello, once of Rage Against the Machine, as his temporary lead guitarist) at a version of a certain sort of updated work song by a now-defunct, post-rockabilly, looking-for-the-lost-spirit-of-America band called the Havalinas. You will notice a lot of ghost chasing in that sentence. One of the tracks here, maybe even the best — an orchestral waltz detailing the Buddhism of low expectations — is called “Hunter of Invisible Game.” What a perfect title that would have been for this record.